The programs of Living Jazz are known not only for their artistic quality, but also for their commitment to building community based on diversity, inclusion and accessibility; the distinctive way in which they encourage and support artists of all skill levels; and the artistic and personal growth they foster in participants of all ages.
In 1984, LJ helped save a faltering small summer music camp for teens and adults originally held in Cazadero, California. By the next year, LJ had brought Jazz Camp West onto solid ground financially and organizationally, as well as incorporated as a non-profit organization. Over the next two decades, LJ continued to expand Jazz Camp West programmatically and develop its infrastructure. The program is now recognized as one of the world’s leading jazz immersion programs, serving over 300 people of all skill levels and backgrounds each year.
In 1986, Living Jazz created the Oakland Interfaith Gospel Choir (OIGC), a 65-member interfaith and inter-racial adult choir that grew out of the popular all-camp gospel choir held at Jazz Camp each summer. OIGC quickly became a popular performance, recording and touring group. After six years of development and expansion, OIGC splintered off from LJ to form its own corporation, and has gone on to great success and international renown.
In 1990, LJ created the Fall and Spring Music Series, a rotating series of workshops originally held at Laney College in Oakland. These workshops were the first accessible educational opportunity that Bay Area residents of all skill levels had to leading jazz artists in the local community. From 1990 to 2001, this jazz education program evolved into an intensive weekend event entitled "RhythmVoice", and then later known as "Jazz Camp Weekend". This winter version of Jazz Camp West provided access to over 30 all-star jazz artists and a multitude of classes, workshops, and performances held at Mills College in Oakland for 11 years. With the advent of the Jazz School in Berkeley, which provided year-round access to Bay Area jazz artists, LJ suspended Jazz Camp Weekend, and Stacey Hoffman, Executive Director instead became an active member of the Jazz School Advisory Board.
After the Gospel Choir splintered off to stand on its own, LJ created the Oakland Jazz Choir (OJC) in 1992. This adult performing and touring group was started in response to the growing need for an ongoing, high quality training and performance platform for amateur, semi-professional, and professional jazz singers in the Bay Area. LJ nurtured and developed the choir for the next 14 years, at which time OJC formed its own independent organization and continues to perform and tour throughout the year.
In 2002, LJ created "In the Name of Love": The Annual Musical Tribute Honoring Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.This event was created in response to the lack of a non-denominational musical tribute honoring Dr. King in Oakland. It also fulfilled the desire of Living Jazz for an annual showcase in Oakland for nationally known talent alongside Bay Area jazz talent, within the framework of a collaborative, meaningful event. The event also includes children from Oakland public schools, archival footage of Dr. King, and the presentation of an annual Humanitarian Award presented by a prominent dignitary. It brings together families, children and seniors from extremely diverse backgrounds to share, through music, the inspiration of Dr. King’s teachings. The event also includes the Oakland Community Exhibition, a pre-concert event that provides visibility to 40 Oakland non-profits and businesses.
In 2005, in an effort to help fill the gap in music education in the Oakland public school system, LJ established the Oakland Children’s Community Choir OCCC). A four-month music fundamental and performance program provided completely free of charge, OCCC serves Oakland public elementary schools with little or no access to the arts. Weekly music classes are held during the regular school day for first, second, and third graders and culminates in a high profile showcase traditionally as the opening act at the annual MLK Tribute. This provides an exciting and inspiring goal for the children. OCCC provides beginning level vocal, rhythm, and ear training, along with memorization and polishing of three vocal arrangements in preparation for a high-profile final performance; basic performance etiquette and stage presence skills; an understanding of how music has a cultural and historical context through song choice and lyrics that are reflective and relevant to students' own cultural heritage; builds self-esteem and confidence; provides an experience of community and connectedness that bypasses cultural and economic boundaries and is joyful and fun, while still reinforcing structure, discipline, and respect for self and others; and works more closely with classroom teachers and principals at each school in order to align residency curriculum with State arts standards and core curriculum.
In 2008, LJ launched, Jam Camp West. Jam Camp is a 7-day annual summer jazz music and dance program designed specifically for 10-15 year olds of diverse cultural and economic backgrounds, which provides an alternative to the traditional band and orchestra camps. Jam Camp exposes children of all skill levels to a contemporary jazz curriculum in a supportive, inclusive and beautiful natural redwood environment. In just four years, this program has reached its enrollment goals, and currently serves 90 children from broadly diverse backgrounds.
In 2010, LJ launched its newest program Jazz Search West to provide recognition and exposure to pre-professional talent, and inspire and motivate emerging artists. Weekly public competitions during the month of March are held in a variety of jazz venues in San Francisco and the East Bay. Each week vocal and instrumental performers compete in front of a live audience, backed up by a professional rhythm section provided by LJ. A panel of local jazz music professionals serve as judges and provide critical feedback to the contestants. A Grand Finale, open to the general public, caps off the event. Three winners are ultimately selected by our panel of judges, providing prizes designed to further their musical careers.